Every day we read information that we are expected to trust as being truthful, correct and appropriate for what we need. How we choose to trust this information is a complex mix of personal experience, peer scrutiny, intuitive feel and legal consequence.
As a designer I am constantly working with information about materials, components or systems that I need to trust in order to make decisions. Being able to trust working information is pivotal to being efficient.
Often I am faced with having to make a decision based on some information that I do not trust completely.
When this happens, I have to undertake independent verification, which stymies productivity.
Here is my short-list of questions that I use to help me make a decision about how much I should trust information.1. Is the information published by a manufacturer or author whom I know and trust from my own experience? 2. Is the information published by a manufacturer or author whom I trust by reputation, or the advice of peers I respect? 3. Is the information missing any key points? 4. Is the information rigorously consistent? 5. Is the information believable based on my own experience? 6. Is the use of language and style consistent?
Here’s a recent example of inconsistency: I requested and received a specification document from a manufacturer for an infra-red LED (Light Emitting Diode) that would operate outside the visible spectrum and therefore invisible to the human eye. The data provided looked very favourable for my project; however, one key section caused me some concern. The document stated that the product was suitable for applications involving indicator panels, mobile phone displays and decorative lighting – completely at odds with the technical specs and my requirements!
I’m guessing that this document had been crafted from another document as a template with poor or zero checking of the final document. A simple error like this casts doubt not only on the trustworthiness of all information in the document, but on all documentation from that manufacturer.
I will explore some of the other warning signs in my list in future posts.
When you cannot trust information or when data does not seem quite right, then you must make decisions that are based on risk and consequence rather than on trust.
Sometimes the risk that you are being misled or that the information is ambiguous/incomplete may be high, but the consequence low. In other cases, the risk may be low but the consequence very high. In either case, a decision about managing the risk is usually quite simple. Managing the risk when risk and consequence are less well defined, however, becomes more problematic. In any case productivity suffers.
When speed and efficiency are vital, I will pay more for information, components or systems where I have a high level of trust and I know that I can deliver quickly with low risk.
When minimising the cost or other drivers such as volume/count manufacturing come into play, however, I often find myself using information, components and systems where my level of trust is low. When this happens, I have to manage the risks accordingly.